Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Kentucky homebred Charming Kitten, impressive when winning the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park on January 20, a race named for his sire, will likely be favored to add Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach to his growing resume.
Jockey John Velazquez will be back aboard Charming Kitten for trainer Todd Pletcher in the field of 11 sophomores set to go in the 1 1/8-mile turf test at Gulfstream.
Charming Kitten finished a troubled second as the favorite in the December 15 Dania Beach over the course in his start prior to the Kitten's Joy. In his other three starts last season, the dark bay colt won his debut on turf at Saratoga, finished third in the Grade 2 With Anticipation at the Spa and then suffered his only off-the-board run when ninth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in early October while trying the synthetic Polytrack for the first time.
Charming Kitten is by the Ramseys' 2004 turf champion Kitten's Joy, who won the Palm Beach early that year when his regular rider was Jerry Bailey.
"We considered trying to go to the Derby with Kitten's Joy," Ramsey replied when asked if a good effort in the Palm Beach could see Charming Kitten go in a major Kentucky Derby prep next. "Jerry Bailey was riding him early that year and he said, 'He just doesn't have the same kick on dirt,' and recommended keeping him on turf. It turned out to be good advice.
"The Derby is very much on by bucket list and we'll see how he does in the race Sunday and discuss the possibilities with Todd. We'll do what's right for the horse."
The Ramseys will have another runner in the Palm Beach with their homebred Amen Kitten, also a son of Kitten's Joy. Trained by Wesley Ward, Amen's Kitten broke his maiden last out over the course on January 11 in his seventh start for a $75,000 claiming tag and no takers.
Making his stakes debut and expected to attract plenty of support in the Palm Beach will be Rydilluc with jockey Edgar Prado on a return call for trainer Gary Contessa.
The son of Medaglia d'Oro was very impressive winning an optional claimer over the course by 5 3/4 lengths under Prado on January 5. He broke his maiden on turf at Aqueduct in late November after a fifth-place main track debut sprinting at Belmont Park in mid-October.
"The Palm Beach has been the long-range plan for him for about two months," said Contessa, who recently crossed the 2,000 career victory plateau in a race in New York. "He has trained fantastic this winter and Edgar (Prado) is very high on him. In fact he's gotten in his car and driven up to Palm Meadows to be on him every time he's worked.
"He trained so good on dirt before his first start I thought he'd gallop, but he never even got involved. Then we said, 'Maybe he's a turf horse,' and he was very impressive winning his second start. However, we still haven't ruled out anything and he still could be on the Derby Trail. If things go well in the Palm Beach we'll consider the (Grade 2) Spiral Stakes 20 days later (at Turfway Park on April 23) and I wouldn't rule out the (Grade 1) Blue Grass as a back-up (at Keeneland on April 13)."
Another highly-regarded contender in the field that may use the Palm Beach as a step to a major Derby prep is Dewey Square with leading Gulfstream jockey Javier Castellano aboard for trainer Dale Romans, who sent out Paddy O'Prado to win the 2010 edition of the Palm Beach on the way to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby that spring after a runner-up effort in the Blue Grass.
A Kentucky homebred by Bernardini, Dewey Square came to Gulfstream for the winter as a top Derby hopeful after a three-race juvenile campaign when he won his debut by 11 lengths at Hoosier Park in September, an optional claiming race by four lengths at Churchill Downs in late October and finished a rallying third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club going 1 1/16 miles back under the Twin Spires in late November.
Dewey Square made his three-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on January 26 and was never a factor with suggestions after the race that he resented kickback and may not have handled the track. Romans later reiterated his faith in Dewey Square as a top prospect, but altered his schedule while indicating a good effort in the Palm Beach would likely earn him a start in the Blue Grass.
Romans also sends out Summit County with Corey Lanerie named to ride. The Kentucky homebred son of Any Given Saturday finished sixth last out in the Kitten's Joy after an optional claiming victory over the course on December 19. Summit County set the opening pace in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last November before tiring late to finish 12th.
Pennsylvania homebred gelding Holiday Star appears to be hitting his best stride coming into the Palm Beach with jockey Joe Rocco Jr. in the saddle for trainer Graham Motion. The bay son of Harlan's Holiday has won his last two starts on turf since arriving in South Florida for the winter, breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in mid-December and scoring in an optional claiming contest over the Gulfstream course on January 26.
Also of note in the field is Quinzieme Monarque, who will be making his three-year-old bow while returning to the turf. The Tom Albertrani-trained Rock Hard Ten colt closed out his juvenile campaign with a well-beaten, one-paced fourth in the Grade 2 Remsen on Aqueduct's main dirt. That followed another fourth, also well-beaten but making up ground late, in the Grade 3 Pilgrim over Belmont Park's yielding turf. Joel Rosario, who has the call Sunday, was aboard for those two starts, which followed a 4 3/4-length maiden win on Belmont's firm turf going 1 1/16 miles last September.
Completing the field for the Palm Beach are Saturday Special, who was fourth in the Kitten's Joy; Squall King, sixth in the Dania Beach but a close third behind Holiday Star last out in an optional claimer; maiden-claiming winner Dad'z Laugh; and Reporting Star, fifth in the Dania Beach.